Triggers, Theology, Spirituality

So, I got married recently...and it was wonderful, particularly as I got to marry a wonderful, super smart, big hearted, beautiful woman.

The ceremony was in church, which was not our original plan (Elvis in Vegas, or a Marriage Commissioner on the beach) - but Sabina graciously allowed us to mark this auspicious occasion in a place special to me, amongst a community I love and who have been overwhelmingly supportive of me, in a way that was deeply meaningful to me. This was indeed gracious as my now-wife is from a Sikh culture and has less-than-positive experience of the institutional church having spent time as a child in a Catholic and (not always tolerant) Anglican School setting.
I worked with my Bishop in forming a service based on the interfaith liturgy of the Anglican Church of Canada, we were blessed with a speaker who is one of North America's foremost Comparative Religion scholars and who wove together Sikh and Christian tradition in a profound and thoughtful sermon, we inclusivised all references to the Divine and created what seemed to be a broad, yet substantial, service.

But at the rehearsal I discovered a point of discomfort for my wife-to-be, and it turns out a number of others, a prayer I'd included not without thinking, but without realising the way it made people feel, the prayer known as 'The Lord's Prayer' (as it was taught by 'the Lord Jesus', or 'The Disciples' Prayer' (as it was taught to the Disciples of Jesus and is used by those of us who call ourselves disciples now), or the 'Our Father' (The opening words, or in Latin 'Pater Noster').
This prayer is a trigger because it links with what can only be described as oppressive or abusive behaviours by religious figures who forced children to learn it (and others) by rote, and threatened with promises of hellfire and damnation those who could not recite such prayers parrot fashion on command - even those of other faith traditions, or none, who were also being taught their own inadequacy or exclusion from 'the faithful'. As such the 'Our Father' has become a summary of such negative emotion for many people.

And yet for me, it is a prayer of intimacy and freedom, of unity and love. For me, not having had these negative experiences, and being the beneficiary of privilege which allowed me to feel included in the usage of such a prayer and not excluded I had no idea of the negativity behind including it in the form it was used in my own marriage service.

Which causes me to stop and think. How often do I consider what makes up our worshipping life and the affect it might have on those without the privilege I have had? How often do we consider the meaning behind what we say and do? The experiences behind the words.

Part of my calling is to share what I have learned, and that which anchors me in a deep sense of the love of God - a God of welcome and acceptance, but a God of fierce tenderness which is shown in justice, healing, wholeness, and the delicate yet robust connections of the created world. A God who welcomes us into relationship with Godself, and with one another, and with the whole order of the universe.  A God imperfectly glimpsed in prayer, silence, liturgy, poetry, metaphor, music, art, and in human beings.

And so I have been thinking, exploring, the meanings behind the Disciple's prayer, as I think this prayer is best named.  The translation (and it's important to remember that it is a translation) goes thus:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial,
And deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,
Now and forever.

Here's my own take:

The meaning of this prayer starts with the first word: "our" - the relationship with the Divine is not an exclusive relationship, it is shared in common with all humanity.  This is the most inclusive prayer it can be, not beginning with a statement of the greatness or ineffability of God - but with a statement that means 'God of everybody, God for everybody'.

Father is more difficult. The patriarchal history of a male-dominated church makes it difficult to disentangle the image of the 'Pater Familias' from what I believe the real meaning to be - an expression of relationship, a relationship so close that it is like a relationship of blood and family. Again, Jesus doesn't teach his disciples to use a lofty title for God, but to think of God as an intimate - and rather than needing to stick with a masculine image I often use the phrase 'mother' or 'beloved' instead when using this prayer in my own devotions.

In heaven. The metaphor of heaven is shorthand to talk of that which is infinite, that which is beyond our understanding; heaven is tied up with the image held by the ancients of a three tier universe, with sheol or hades below, this earth in the middle, and heaven - beyond reach, 'up there' - above. We know that the earth is not flat, and that going 'up there' doesn't take us to where God lives, but the image is not a literal one but one which reminds us that the nature of the Divine is ultimately beyond our finite understanding.

Hallowed be your name - an odd saying to our modern ears, but it's more like 'may you be honoured'. How do we honour God? By living lives of love and service to our fellow humanity and sharing in prayer and worship.

Your kingdom come. Not a statement of domination, as kingdoms seem to be in our popular imagination. The Kingdom of God, or the reign of the Divine, is not a place with a king on a throne, but a state of being.  It is the state that exists when love is present, it is the move towards wholeness and healing. The Shalom of God - the peace, integrity, and integration of all things.

Your will be done. The will of God is that all know themselves loved, and love all things. And this will is made manifest not by divine decree, but by the way in which human beings act towards one another in gracious love. When I pray these words I don't expect God to swoop in and sort everything out, but I long for the direction, the guidance, the inspiration, of where I may be a part of bringing about something of the life of Divine in my own life and the lives of others.

On earth as in heaven - a metaphor again, but one which says that this earth is a place where all the fullness of the Divine can dwell - and that the healing, love and grace which is associated with the fullness of Divine perfection is entirely available here and now.

Give us this day our daily bread. A reminder for us to recognise our dependence upon God for all we need, and to be satisfied with what we have. Not to be a part of the 'I want more' culture that surrounds us, but to see the blessing in what we have.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Here I could write a whole sermon, but I won't (maybe a blog post another time, eh?). We have reduced 'sin' to bad things we do, but sin is a whole different concept in the Biblical worldview - it is the breaking of relationship between God and humanity and between human beings and each other. When we break those relationships we are in a place where we find ourselves less than what we should be and we need that restoration to wholeness that the Divine offers. It is not an individual action of 'wickedness' but the way in which we together need to recognise and seek healing for those broken relationships, those unjust structures, and those oppressive systems which dehumanise and bring death.

Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. Help! We recognise God's companionship through all the best and worst of life, not that God is manipulating every event (there's a blog post somewhere here but years back on this!) but that God is with us, always, alongside us, in the midst of our struggles and suffering with us.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, Now and forever.  All the Divine, all the metaphorical ways in which we try to come to terms with what is more than we can imagine, all of that we recognise as we close this prayer - knowing that infinite is more than we finite souls can grasp, but filled with the wonder which allows us to see something of the love of God in the world, in other people, in all that is.

Amen. May it be so. Or, as they say on Battlestar Galactica "So say we all!"

Or not. I realise that these images don't resonate with everyone, worse - the use of this prayer (the meanings within which I have only just begun to hint at in my own hastily constructed posting here) is actually painful and destructive for some people.  And I have to be aware of that, and consider that in my constructing worship.  I can try to renew the meaning behind these prayers, to teach, to use them compassionately and sensitively and to encourage others to engage with them whilst seeking to leave past negatives behind. But I can't demand that, and I can't tell anyone what to feel.

Jesus himself presented this prayer as a 'pattern of prayer' - and more than that, quite possibly presented in a language (Aramaic) filled with images and concepts which translations into koine Greek (the language of the New Testament) and then Latin, and onwards into the languages of many nations, cannot begin to convey. So this prayer is a springboard to what prayer is, and that is a conversation which could go on a very long time indeed.  Perhaps retranslating it is a more helpful option, and I would have used the New Zealand Prayer Book version at my wedding if the copyright had been available - as it's for educational purposes I hope that reproducing it here is acceptable:

And I leave this post with another rewrite/translation/paraphrase which, had I seen it before the wedding, I would certainly have used this one - from the Christian group 'Enfleshed':


mr freeze59 said…
I have to admit, that while watching your Marriage via the Facebook link how much I enjoyed it, but it was when you got to The Lord's Prayer I thought this is wrong its not the Lord's Prayer I know, it was some while later I realised it was the modern version and I went looking for my Common Worship and I found the modern version as I am so used to using the Traditional version which if i am honest I do prefer, I can not remember the last time i said the modern version it certainly made me stop and think as I know i am guilty of saying the communion service parrot fashion due to my long service as an Altar Server like a lot of people are as i do not always have a book in front of me

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